The waterfront in Saint John, N.B., is undergoing a revitalization, including the addition of the Area 506 Waterfront Container Village, now in its second year.
Founder and president Ray Gracewood envisioned urbanizing a one-of-a-kind experience when he started a now well-established music festival – Area 506. The first concert was in 2016, and several years later, a new vision became clear and the container village was created.
“I think I’ve always loved the idea of living in Saint John and loved the idea of it being a port city,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Over the last several years we’ve had a music festival that centres around the reimagining of a port city and the container village is an extension of that.”
Gracewood, along with the Port of Saint John and two levels of government, crafted a unique space with many New Brunswick-based businesses in modified shipping containers painted in bright, vibrant colours.
“We had massive success,” he said. “It’s a different experience. It’s a great introduction to the city for cruise ship passengers and most importantly the local residents and the people that come and visit the city have really wrapped their arms around it.”
In fact, since May nearly 74 cruise ships have docked in the port, with the largest ship carrying up to 5,000 passengers.
Gracewood estimates more than 250,000 people visited the container village this season, and the port reported the max number of passengers was a little more than 179,000.
For him, this is the first step in the overall revitalization of the waterfront – in the distance, crews work to begin construction on the Fundy Quay.
“I think over the next several years, it’s going to be completely different than what it has felt in the past,” he said. “Hopefully the container village is the first step in that direction.”
Adding a music festival
This was the first year of the Boxcar Country Music Festival, Gracewood said, describing an event catering to country music fans and another personal experience for the fans.
He estimates 6,000 people came to the two-day music festival, a total of nearly 20,000 over the five days that take in both festivals.
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“We’re looking forward to continuing with that as well,” he said. “We just love to do cool projects that people also think are cool, and it’s a great way to celebrate the city of Saint John, the waterfront, the province of New Brunswick and everything we hold near and dear to our hearts.”
Gracewood said it was fun to see people pull out all the stops for the country music festival, and said the Canadian-based lineup is an important piece of the puzzle.
“I would think it’s fair to say Boxcar exceeded our expectations,” he said. “Just how people bought in – the cowboy hats, the boots – I just love the energy and the vibe.”
The plan is to take what was learned in 2023 forward to next year, perfecting the urban-outdoor, on-the-waterfront concert experience.
Gracewood said the future of the container village is bright and he has received feedback from plenty of people so far. It has 56 containers and he said there are Indigenous-led businesses, women-led businesses, all critical pieces of the fabric of the village space.
The space has added a boardwalk for accessibility along with permanent washrooms. It expanded its bar space and added some full-time restaurants.
He said the goal is to continue to aim higher to enhance the experience for those who have come to love and enjoy the container village.
“I think at the end of the day, I’m happy with how things have gone, you know. We get lots of great feedback, people really enjoy coming here and that is the main thing,” he said.
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